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I have tried my best on this blog to communicate science in an interesting and fun way. That is probably my main interest. However, I also do research in this area. I am currently researching how people process and critically asses information on the Internet. Ultimately, I am trying to develop a model that will predict how a person will seek and then process information on the Internet, given some task (surfing, looking for accurate health info, etc.).

If you are interested in this kind of work I have explained the basic concepts in my latest JREF article, which I excerpt below (you can find all my JREF articles here).

Information Processing

In the science-based community, critical thinking is paramount. While we have many ideas of what critical thinking (or the lack thereof) may look like on its face, I think that it would be valuable to introduce another way of thinking about thinking.

As the newest JREF research fellow, I suppose that it is time to share with you what my research is actually about. My field of research at the moment is communication and the theories of cognitive psychology held within. Considering critical thinking as a cognitive mode that deals with evidence and analytical evaluation, the Heuristic-Systematic Model developed by communications researcher Shelly Chaiken (1980) gives a dual-process view of human information processing.

The foundation of this widely used model is rather simple: people are cognitively economical. Every attempt to seek information from a source and then process that information is governed by this rule. For example, suppose you read a press release about a new scientific finding and want to check out the study for yourself. Once you get your hands on the study, you quickly find that the paper is highly technical and laden with jargon. The amount of cognitive effort that is needed to do a simple fact check may be so high that you abandon the endeavor altogether. In short, the amount of effort that a person is willing to expend finding and processing information determines what style of thinking they will enter into.

This cognitive economy separates our thinking (or so the model predicts) into two styles: heuristic and systematic. Heuristic thinking is what could be thought of as the gut reaction style of thought. It is quick, relies on information that is already known to us (from personal experience, observation, inference, etc.), and enables us to make snap judgments on information. For example, if you view NASA as a reputable source of information, seeing a NASA logo on a press release may lead you to take the information within at face value, whether or not it is factually accurate. Heuristic thinking (given that the cognitive economy is right) relies heavily on cues to inform it. Heuristic cues can be anything that signals an acceptably quick jump in reasoning. A PhD after an author’s name, the appearance of scientific references at the bottom of an article, and even the familiarity with the information source can all lead to quick judgments that the information is credible and can be processed superficially. On the other hand, negative heuristic cues, like a frequent combination of the terms “quantum” and “consciousness,” may lead us to swiftly dismiss or ignore the information source.

Read the full article….